Why Emotional Intelligence leads to success
The immortal and ironic words of Vinny Jones in the title make us laugh as he renders his lines impassively in “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”. We are supposed to think that his character is so cool he has no emotions: nothing rattles him. This being the case, he is the master of all that is around him as he is un-swayed by his inner demons and able to act rationally and effectively. We all admire this sort of personality; Clint Eastwood made a fortune enacting similar types like the Lone Drifter and Dirty Harry. These films are so popular because they represent how we might like to be ideally: true to our moral code, protector of the weak, the nemesis of any bully and unflappable. Unfortunately none of us, not even the super cool Mr Eastwood and Jones, can actually suppress our emotions. Instead, we have to be aware of them and use them.
At StatPro we have recently asked all our managers and directors (around 65 people) to go through training on Emotional Intelligence run by JCA Global (John Cooper Associates). Whilst this was a cause of some trepidation for many prior to the courses, everyone I spoke to about it after the event has greeted it with great enthusiasm. Our theory was that better management of others comes through better management of ourselves. That in turn comes through better understanding of how we tick as humans. More personal awareness and more awareness of others leads to better relations and better management. It also involves quite a bit of introspection: something that is not typically comfortable or welcome, but always ends up being interesting. That is because you are the most interesting person to you, as I am to me.
Like any course, we heard some things we knew already, but it was the beautifully succinct way it was all put together that made it so effective. For me, it provided bits of glue to stick ideas together that had for too long lain apart in my mind.
Apparently, ninety percent of our actions are controlled by our limbic or “emotional” brain, which is a large part of our unconsciousness. This happens whether we like it or not Mr Eastwood. Only ten percent or less is actively conscious thought by our cerebral brain. If most of the time our actions are being controlled by our emotional brain, that leaves a lot of room for impulsive behaviour. However, it is difficult (impossible probably) to be constantly aware of how we feel and so events will stimulate any one of hundreds of possible emotions in us. These emotions will then shape how we react to other people. What seemed like a cheerful conversation can suddenly turn sour. A poorly phrased email can trigger feelings of hurt and anger where none was intended. A meeting to discuss concrete actions can turn into an inquisition and so on. These are usually all counterproductive in every sense, certainly in a business environment.
So, in a nutshell, emotional intelligence is awareness of our emotions and those of other people. We cannot control our emotions, but if we are aware of them, we can use them. If we are aware of them, one emotion might not spiral into another. For example, irritation, to anger, to rage. We cannot help sometimes being irritated, but if we channel this emotion, we can potentially get a better result. Being aware of our emotions leads to better self-management and better relations with others. This makes for a much more productive environment in which to conduct business.
However, we learnt that the starting point for effective use of emotional intelligence is our attitude. It is hard for us to control how other people see us, but it is likely that this is framed by how they feel we see them. If we like an individual and respect him or her (and they feel it), it is quite likely that this will be reciprocated. Equally, if we have a low regard for ourselves, it is likely that other people will find it hard to hold us in high regard. Thus our attitude towards ourselves and towards others is absolutely key. A confident person is distinguished from an arrogant person by their attitude towards others. Both appear confident in themselves, but a truly confident person holds other people in high regard as a default mode, whereas an arrogant person holds other people in contempt. Such an attitude naturally leads to a breakdown in communication.
It makes matters more complicated that of course how we feel (confident/not confident) can depend on the people we are with. On top of that, how we feel about different people (respect/contempt/fear) varies considerably. Jesus and Buddha might have been able to treat everyone in exactly the same beautiful way, but for most of us this is not possible. Nevertheless, it is clear that the framework of how we act and react, how we feel and our attitude is universal to mankind. If we understand better how we function and so how others function, it follows that we will be better prepared in dealing with other people.
As such, how we act and react is far more in our control than perhaps we think. Greater awareness is something everyone can learn. Indeed, JCA Global made the point that whereas IQ is more or less fixed, EQ (Emotional Intelligence) can be learnt and increased. That is important to understand as it means there is no excuse for not trying to get better at dealing with people.
In a modern world where technology makes it easier to communicate with our colleague who is sitting two desks away via email, we can easily slip into bad habits, negative feelings, isolation and defensiveness. Email is efficient, but no replacement for respectful relationships. One active decision taken by all the people on the course is to ban the use of mobile phones and computers at meetings so that we listen better to each other. This is easier said than done, but it will be interesting to see if we can stick to this. It is a great idea.
To be clear, using our emotional intelligence in not just about being “nice”. That is a cop out. Sometimes you have to tell people that their work or behaviour is not good enough. Doing so in a constructive way requires full use of all your emotional intelligence – best not to use an email.
It is also true that people take their cue from their leaders. The attitude of the leader influences everyone who follows him or her. That is a great responsibility. It also magnifies the effects of not being in control of one’s emotions, because the leader is in the spotlight. I can testify that being in that spotlight is not always comfortable and that almost all actions a leader takes have unexpected consequences. Sometimes there appear to be no right solutions, but this training course has reminded me that the right attitude is always the right answer and it will lead to mastery of feelings and thus actions and behaviour. We cannot control how others act any more than we can control the weather, but with some preparation we can manage them better. I know that I have a lot of room for improvement (talking too much, not letting other people feel they have been heard, ignoring people because I am preoccupied by something), but I also know that I can get better if I put an effort into it.
So thank you John Cooper Associates for conducting a really effective and interesting series of courses for us. I have to say, it’s been emotional.